You Got Style
· Pointed Takes on Style Delineated ·
February 28, 2005
· Analogue : Digital : : Insight : InSite ·
I was thinking about that word last week. I was chatting with Mike, a twin I have in English 101 now. Dan, his brother, is the better writer — an artist — but Mike has the more charming, digital personality as you might guess. I remember when I guessed right that Mike is a Fedora-Linux fan, and understandably thinks "open-source" means global salvation. Well, last week, when I tried to convince him that 99% of his life was lived in analogue, wouldn't you know he shot back, "Yeah, but I live for the digital."
So for Mike today — and for you, too — I've thought to provide, if not an Insight into writing as yet, at least an InSite into its current marketing.
Do enjoy.Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
February 19, 2005
· A White Paper on Clarity ·
Roger Angell's New Yorker piece, Andy, on his stepfather E. B. White's prose, includes this sentence. I begin with his judgment for my students' sake, should they confuse ease of writing with ease of reading. It puts me in mind of Richard Sheridan's quip, "Easy writing makes vile hard reading," logically the regrettable obverse, and its all-too-frequent result.
Angell's own apt effort shines through in honor of White's limpid style, and his celebrated capacity for disciplined, pains-taking, ever-demanding work.
You can hear in these words — those of "adoption," as I'd call them — Angell's own acknowledgement of a quite natural identification with "more than ten million writers" like him, all of whom have profited from his stepfather's example.
Would that we all wrote so well, and worked so hard.Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
February 14, 2005
· An L.A.-Style, Multicultural, Memorial Weekend ·
My wife and I began visiting my parents' gravesites near LAX. We'd cared for them before they died, Dad in 1990, Mom in 1993. Dad was the first native-naturalized American I'd ever known, a Minnesotan really (later a Canadian-American), and Mom found him, in L.A., to marry in 1942. We thought we'd brought Washington rain with us Friday to California, but we knew it was really sunny up north. (Dad, you should know, died of malignant melanoma, Mom of heart failure.)
There lay my uncle, too, and his lovely Jewish wife, my aunt, and beyond them my grandmother who died before I was aware in 1949. My Norwegian grandfather, who died in 1923, lies in Rainy Hills Cemetery on the plains of Alberta, Canada. As I wrote on my dad's death: "In youth he negotiated in Southern Alberta coulees on the Red Deer River; in maturity he negotiated the colossus we call Los Angeles."
We made our way north after stopping briefly for lunch by a park where I once pounded tennis balls against a wall in imitation of my tennis-playing cousin, Pancho, whose stepmom was my aunt (Willa Gonzales). Then off to my first house, now a small factory owned by Mexican-Americans working iron for Las-Vegas places like The Bellagio, The Venetian, and Mandalay Bay. Then we paused by David Wilson's nearby Museum of Jurassic Technology, where in the 1950s I'd had haircuts done by a vaguely British barber. I noticed the old Chinese restaurant two doors down was preparing Thai cuisine now.
Later that night we gathered in an Italian restaurant to recount tales of our American experiences. My cousin's husband, a Russian Orthodox priest's son, laughed along with us when my brother-in-law, a retired Swedish pastor, told how his own granddad had been forced to emigrate when he made the mistake of singing the Danish national anthem when Germans held sway in Silesia. Then we heartily laughed together as we recalled how Grandma might even have had some relation to Kaiser Bill.
Saturday's memorial service, I'm glad to say, was attended by some scores of other souls maybe with similar tales to tell. In any event, I think our JoAn — who died a month shy of her seventy-second birthday — would have enjoyed our fine mix of California-style memorializing.
To our beloved JoAn, then (1933 - 2005) — whose life led from Sacramento to L.A., but whose reach embraced the extended journey we can all take from sacrament to sainthood.
And that's one day short of "the rest of the story."Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
February 7, 2005
· Veni, Vidi, Vici, Ulysses S. Grant Style ·
Comp teachers always have similar advice: to "prefer" them. We're so moved by them that, when passives appear, we are seen to hang our heads low, or at the sight of linkers, often to fall into a deep, existential angst. You might recall symptoms of that behavior even here, in my On Parsing English Justice.
Today I thought to beg the collegial but not yet psychological help of a great Civil War historian, James McPherson. His essay on Ulysses S. Grant, "The Unheroic Hero" (The New York Review of Books, February 4, 1999), I've long used to help students assess such verbs. McPherson's examples are instructive, not only in literature, but in life.
McPherson claims Grant's greatest stylistic achievements are two: "triumph in war, and success in writing [a] book [Personal Memoirs] in a race against death." Both are in turn based on a similar reality: "words," McPherson notes, not only "produce action — they become action."
Consider Grant's field orders in the Champion-Hill campaign at Vicksburg (1863):
As McPherson explains, "[i]n the manner of Ceasar's Veni, vidi, vici, these sentences bristle with verbs of action: 'Move . . . engage . . . disencumber . . . select . . . feel . . . move . . . start.' Grant used few adjectives and fewer adverbs and then only those necessary to enforce his meaning: 'early dawn . . . engage at once . . . move with all possible dispatch . . . great celerity . . . every man.'"
Still more impressive was Grant's final battle against death. Fighting ruin and throat cancer, he rushed to finish his impressive Memoirs with a courageous command of language nowhere better shown than in a note, penned three weeks before his death, to his physician. Unable to speak, he wrote two short sentences every teacher might claim as the paradigmatic truth about verbs:
That life lesson, too, my own students have already begun to learn.Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (1)
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Analogue : Digital : : Insight : InSite
A White Paper on Clarity
An L.A.-Style, Multicultural, Memorial Weekend
Veni, Vidi, Vici, Ulysses S. Grant Style
Figures & Tropes
Grammar & Syntax